Hello again! I was able to attend the trade show and annual meeting this year in St. Louis and it was amazing experience. At the trade show I got to meet new people in the grain industry and talk to them about their experiences and got to see familiar faces I got to meet this summer while on the Industry Immersion Tour.
My first day job shadowing this spring, I shadowed Todd Farris, Paul Crombie, and Cindy Springer. I learned different things from each person. I first started the day with Todd Farris learning about future settlements and how to check them and make sure they are put into the computer program correctly. I learned that you want to hedge contracts for the time you plan to ship the grain, so you don’t have to worry about rolling contracts. We also talked about the market. When there is a carry (spread is negative) in the market that means you should hold your grain or store it. When the market is inverted (spread is positive) it means grain is needed right then. In Mt. Pulaski they were shipping grain out, so I got to see trucks get weighed in and out and watched them test grain. Then I went to the Elkhart office where I spent time with Paul Crombie learning about merchandising of grain. I found this very interesting. When a farmer sells grain to the elevator, they hedge in the futures market. He said, “merchandising is about relationships.” When he does bid for Elkhart Grain Company, he is trying to give the customer the best price for their grain by looking at several different place’s prices. An elevator is a hedger in the market not a speculator trying to make money in the futures market. Hedger use the futures market to reduce risk. I learned about what it means to mark to market, meaning you bring the grain to market and price it for what it is worth today. Then I also talked with Cindy Springer where she does accounting and we talked about some year-end information and how she gets ready and prepares it. I also got to learn more about mark to market with Cindy. While in Elkhart they were receiving grain from off the farm, so grain was coming in. I watched them weigh the trucks in sample the grain and weigh the trucks out.
The second day I shadowed Rick Aylesworth and talked about safety and what he does day to day. Safety is very important and needs to be taken seriously in the grain industry, so no accidents happen. We first started by looking over the employee manuals with OSHA safety requirements with training and each employee signs off on it, which is put in a binder and kept in the office. The OSHA 300 logs are annual reports that tells total hours for employees per location. That report also is used to fill out year-end reports and any injuries during the year which they post these reports per location in February to April. Every week on Fridays they do weekly plant inspections where the outside guys inspect all the locations by a checklist to point out any issues that can be addressed in the following week and are kept in a binder for 3 years. He also does end of the month measurements, enters them into a state software program telling the amount of grain measured in each bin per location. Some day-to-day things he also does is weigh outbound trucks in and out and inspect the grain. When a truck returns, he enters the ticket on the shipping record log and into the computer. When a ticket is entered into the computer then it is applied to a current contract open. The day I was shadowing they were shipping corn and soybeans to Decatur and Jacksonville. Also, they take phone calls from farmers for pricing grain that is in storage and pricing future contracts for the fall. They also accept offers on grain if the price the farmer wants would happen to hit in the overnight market, then the price would be locked in, and the farmer would get that price. He also talked about how he figures daily loads on what is remaining to ship and how much is currently remaining on the contracts.
I would like to thank the Grain & Feed Association of Illinois and Elkhart Grain Company for these opportunities!
Hello again, this is Jonathan Waibel. Just this week I finished the last of my job-shadowing sessions at Alliance Grain. This round we spent the majority of our time observing and participating in the elevator functions which pertain to rail loading. As before, JB Daughenbaugh, who is General Manager for Alliance Grain, graciously offered his time and insight, and personally explained the process to me. In today’s world of market inversions, it is often in the best interest of the commercial elevator to immediately sell and deliver as much of his basis ownership as he can logistically manage. In other words, Alliance Grain is currently maximizing their rail logistics to move as many bushels as possible.
Mr. Daughenbaugh took me to three different locations within Alliance Grain that were loading rail cars. Each was unique, and the various methods and procedures combined to provide me with a well-rounded perspective of rail loading. If the railcar is overloaded, then the railroad company will charge a fine for overweight and force the seller to come and reduce the load to the pre-specified parameters. This can be rather difficult, since some of the local railcars are first weighed in Mississippi or on the Canadian border. If too little of a commodity is loaded on the car, the railroad company charges something called “dead freight” to account for the “wasted” space in the hopper. To deal with this problem, Alliance Grain has installed scales to measure the weight of the railcar as it is being loaded and allow it to be filled up to the limit. An official grade must be given to the grain in each car. At one of the locations we visited there was a certified inspector on-site. This is highly advantageous as adjustments can be made on the fly by the loader to minimize FM, moisture, and other discounts. The alternative is to have the grain graded at its destination. The disadvantage of this is that if the grade were to show a higher than desired moisture on the train load, it is already a done deal; there is no fixing at this point.
One highlight of mine was climbing up to the “crows nest” where the operator(Tim) was filling the cars. Tim would communicate by radio with the engineer, who would then adjust the position of the car under the spout. When the scale readout indicated that the car was full, Tim would press a button and close the bin gate. As we travelled to different locations, Mr. Daughenbaugh pointed out to me that their original elevators were, in many cases, built right up close the railroad for ease of loading. Often they were also situated in the middle of a town. While it may have been convenient at some point, today it is better defined as cumbersome. Hard decisions must be made when a landlocked elevator needs to expand.
At our last stop I was able to tag along with the local elevator manager as he oversaw the loading of the cars. Two Track-mobiles were being used here, and they were pushing segments of 5 railcars at a time. I was impressed with the smoothness with which all the switches and run-backs were made. It seemed like ripe conditions for a pileup, but all the employees worked together and it ran like clockwork.
Overall, the experience was extremely positive. I have always noticed the trains traveling through our neighborhood, but I now have acquired a perspective of the railroad system that I will not forget. I am grateful to JB Daughenbaugh for sharing his time with me. And also to the rest of the team at Alliance Grain. Thank you!
Hello, again! I am wrapping up my senior year at the University of Illinois, and I spent my spring break shadowing Premier Cooperative’s facilities located in Central Illinois, as part of my industry immersion experience through the GFAI scholarship program.
On the first day of my shadowing experience, I had the opportunity to shadow two of their farm marketing specialists. I was able to learn about their strategies for networking with farmers in the area. As a cooperative, they explained that their major role is to work for the farmer and help them make decisions that will benefit them financially. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe a farm visit to one of their customer’s farming operations. It was evident in this meeting that they value their customers and strive to accommodate their needs. The marketing team was also very proud of their new phone application that allows customers to lock in prices for their commodities and review their seller information outside operating hours. To fulfill their mission to maintain high customer satisfaction, they strive to provide resources for their customers to make everything easily accessible.
The cooperative operates 25 different facilities across Central Illinois, and I had the opportunity to visit two of the facilities. Multiple facilities that they operate rely heavily on freight trains to transport their commodities, and it was very interesting to learn about the different markets and corresponding commodity prices associated with different rail lines. I was able to tour their elevator located in Dewey, which is one of their oldest and largest elevators with a total capacity of 7,380,066 bushels. At this location, they explained to me the recent upgrades and automation to their facility that allow them to drastically decrease the amount of time it takes to unload grain trucks bringing in commodities. The automation also allows them to load rail cars that are exporting their commodities quicker and more efficiently as well.
On the second day of the tour, I shadowed their administrative team at the headquarters in Champaign. I was able to meet with their Chief Financial Officer who explained his role in the cooperative. He informed me that his job is to provide information for their board of farmers that oversees the decisions made for the business. He was working on a spreadsheet that would show the board how different wage increases would impact their business. He also explained that these wage increases are necessary to maintain a reliable and qualified workforce. In addition to the CFO, I was able to meet with their merchandiser who handles most of the selling and purchasing of the commodities for the business. He explained how he makes marketing decisions in a volatile market to ensure that they can maintain the prices that their farmers desire. His day is spent primarily monitoring the markets and determining if it is in the best interest of the company to buy or sell commodities. He also explained how transportation impacts his decisions, as it is difficult to find semi-transport for their commodities.
I enjoyed my time at Premier Cooperative, and I learned a lot about their business. In all their facilities, I noticed they had a set of core values that their company strives to uphold. Among these core values was integrity, and after shadowing them for two days it was evident that they strive to maintain relationships with their customers and the community through mutual respect and honesty. I am grateful for the opportunity to shadow this business and I appreciate them taking the time to meet with me.
Hi again! The trade show this year in St.Louis was an amazing experience. Being able to reconnect with those I met this summer on the immersion tour, as well as meeting new faces helped me gain an even better perspective on the grain industry. The trade show was a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am glad I was able to be a part of it.
After the trade show, I was able to come home for spring break and continue my elevator experience with Consolidated Grain and Barge. I visited the Albany location along the Mississippi River and was able to learn the operations of a barge loading facility. The timing was perfect, as the river had just reopened up from the winter and they loaded two barges that day. I worked there with Nick Starr, where I was able to go out to the river and see the loading process up front. Taking barge measurements and reading drafts of the barge is very important. If these steps aren’t done correctly, the barge could be overloaded on one side and cause it to tip over or weigh too much to be shipped away. If the barge is overloaded, it won’t be able to make it down the river without getting stuck in the bottom. Learning the process of transferring grain from one facility to another was very interesting to me and is something I would like to learn more about.
Later that week I returned to Albany and met with Jake Holschlag, the Grain Manager at CGB. There I was able to learn about merchandising, managing, and marketing. Jake also taught me about barges, how they are bought, and where they go after they are loaded. I was also able to attend a marketing meeting with that day with Mike Hogan, the corporate grain originator. This was an amazing experience for me, and I was able to learn a lot from Mike and about the current grain markets and drivers of demand.
While I did not have the typical college spring break experience, I am glad I was able to return to the elevator in Albany and work that week. My job shadowing experiences were unique and being able to see several facilities and jobs at each one helped me piece together the operational process. I look forward to continuing working in this field and learning more about it.
Hello again! After an eventful and educational day at the annual convention and trade show, I returned to FS Grain to learn more about the daily operations within the company and some more about the industry as a whole. I was able to spend some time with Molly Fanning to learn about state contracts and the way in which brokered truck freight is handled within FS Grain. In addition, I got to speak with Mark Trainor and learn about the safety procedures at the 22 locations and how the company presents its policies to the employees. I got to take part in a Grain 101 presentation by Lisa Scribner where I was able to learn about the types of contracts and marketing strategies FS Grain has to offer. To wrap up the first of my spring days, I sat with Collin Graves who is the controller and accountant for FS Grain. He was able to provide some insight on what the company looks at and the measures they use to guide the decision making process for the future of the business. On my final day, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go on several client visits with Ryan Whiteaker, a marketing strategy advisor. During our time together we discussed different approaches he and others use to bring grain into the company and the factors that have an effect on price offerings across the company’s 22 locations.
Being able to job shadow with FS Grain employees was both interesting and educational. I was able to learn a lot about the grain industry and some of what a successful grain business does in its day-to-day operations. I would like to thank the Grain and Feed Association of Illinois and FS Grain for these great opportunities!
Hello, my name is Jonathan Waibel. I live in Forrest, IL, and I am just finishing up my tenure at Parkland Community College where I studied Agricultural Business Management with the goal of becoming involved in Grain Merchandising. I am grateful to have been named a scholarship recipient by the GFAI this year, this has presented to me opportunities that otherwise I would have missed. For my job shadowing this fall I spent two days at Allliance Grain in Gibson City. I spent most of my time the first day with Adam Moritz, who is Grain Merchandiser for Alliance. My highlight of this session was our discussion on the grain flow between their facilities and also the arbitraging that takes place to hit their many different markets. I was intrigued by the topic of rail logistics: the specific rail lines that link specific destinations, the amount of volume that can be handled compared to truck logistics, and the specialized equipment that is used to load the cars at each terminal. The second day I shadowed JB Daughenbaugh, who is General Manager for Alliance. My time with JB was mainly focused on Alliance’s 15 locations. Being spread over such an area geographically has its benefits, such as short travel time from any given farm in the county, but it also presents a set of difficulties. Equipment at 15 different locations needs to be maintained, bushel flow needs to be managed especially at harvest to maximize storage capacity, and then the 20-some million bushels of grain in storage must be conditioned so they don’t spoil. JB took me on a tour of Alliance’s southern locations, I believe we checked out 6 different places. JB also explained to me the process of cooling, conditioning, and storing the grain. If this is not done correctly, the grain will heat up and begin to burn, which phenomenon causes great headaches to all involved. JB could speak from experience as he has dealt with burning grain in the past. Overall, the 2 days of shadowing were extremely beneficial for me. Observing and dealing with business operations in the real world provides an experience that cannot be replaced. Thank you to team at Alliance Grain!
Hello! My name is Jaycie VanKampen, and I am a junior at the University of Illinois, studying Agricultural and Consumer Economics with a focus in business markets and management. I am from a very small town in Northwest Illinois, called Thomson. Coming from such a rural area (with a town population of 524 people), I have always had a love for agriculture. My passion for the grain industry started when I began working for Consolidated Grain and Barge 2 years ago as a freshman in college.
After being paired with CGB for my job shadow, I was able to travel and work for two new facilities within the company. I spent some time working for Nick in Albany, and some time working for Hoyt in Homer. These were both new places for me, and I enjoyed every minute spent at each facility. In Homer, I was able to work at a facility that had lots of storage and loaded trains that were then sent to Decatur. I was also able to spend some time in the office, learning about farm accounts and merchandising. While in Albany, I was at a facility along the river that loaded barges. There I was able to observe how barges were loaded and the flow path of commodity storage. Though both facilities are grain elevators, the operations of train loading and barge loading are very different from each other.
My job shadow experience was unique, and I am so thankful for the opportunity. Being able to work at two different places and learn two different market strategies was very interesting to me. I was also able to work with several different employees, and shadow jobs ranging from operations to merchandising. This experience taught me what it takes to run a successful facility, and I was truly able to experience a day in each person’s shoes.
I would like to thank Joanne, Jeff, Nick, Jake, Hoyt, Bruce, and Kris for helping me along my journey and welcoming me into their facilities. I appreciate the time spent working with me to ensure that the experience I received was as beneficial to me as possible. The experiences I had in Homer and Albany has helped shape my career and professional life and has taught me more than I ever imagined. Thank you to the CGB team as well as the GFAI for providing me with this great experience!
This year, I was fortunate enough to have been selected as a GFAI Renewable Scholarship Recipient. This selection allowed me to have the opportunity to job shadow within the Illinois grain industry once again.
A lot has changed since my last blog post in April. I started a GROWMARK Internship mid-May at the Main Office of FS Grain, which is in Morris, IL. This twelve-week internship allowed me to sit at the merchandising desk and learn more about the grain industry. I soon recognized that while classroom education provides a solid foundation, nothing compares to the knowledge learned by doing and seeing. I am appreciative for the willingness Bryan Rader and Justin Burke, both Merchandisers, had in answering questions I asked. By sitting with them each day, I was able to pick up some key terminology and concepts within the grain industry. This increased my confidence while talking about specifics within grain merchandising. Additionally, I was able to pursue some projects that added value. This included working on a project that overhauled the internal process of creating and posting bids each day. This project was created to save time and prevent errors. This summer affirmed to me that I want to start my career within the grain industry.
I am grateful that, at the end of the summer, I was provided an offer to work full-time with FS Grain upon graduation. This offer was for a Grain Consultant position in Ransom, IL, which would essentially make me responsible for grain origination in that area. I accepted the offer and have continued to be excited for this opportunity, which is now just a few months away. This open position was due to the retirement of a long-time grain originator at the facility. This led me to request to job shadow for the GFAI Renewable Scholarship at this facility. I spent two days learning as much as I could about the ins and outs of the FS Grain Ransom facility. I focused a majority of my time with Pat Knapp, the retiring Grain Consultant. Through our conversations, I was able to see the application of building and maintaining strong relationships with the farmers. This included some morning talk with local farmers over a cup of coffee to start the day. It is actually impressive that with a significant customer list like she has, she has been able to maintain the strength of relationships with farmers for all these years. Furthermore, she shared great resources for learning more about the grain markets and where to seek out daily news updates. It gives me great confidence knowing that she is handing over the origination role in such a strong position.
What took this job shadowing experience to the next level was the ability to meet people from all aspects of the facility. That included Kenny Kral, Facility Supervisor. He was able to share key information about the outside, physical assets of the facility, like the rail loop, bin set up, ground pile space, loading and unloading, and much more. This information and tour gave me great perspective on how the facility works and what its advantages and disadvantages are. I also got to sit with Abby Zeimetz, who shared a lot of information about the accounting and settlement pieces of FS Grain. I appreciated the opportunity to see how these day-to-day duties were carried out. I also got to meet other operations personnel and scale operators, who all play an integral role in making the facility run smoothly. This two-day experience has led me to be more prepared and more excited to start in May!
All in all, I have a few takeaways. 1.) The grain industry, especially within the FS GROWMARK System, places and emphasis on people and the relationships with people. 2.) Asking questions will be key to my growth and success. 3.) Farmers are key to success—value, maintain, and, for me, build those relationships.
Hello, my name is Justin Huff, and I am a senior at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign majoring in Animal Science with a concentration in Pre-Veterinary Medicine. My career goal is to become a large animal veterinarian and provide services to food animals in the underserved rural America. My experiences at the University of Illinois sparked my interest in animal nutrition, and I was excited to be paired with The Maschhoff’s for my fall immersion tour. I have a strong connection with the company having served as an animal care technician while obtaining my Associate of Science degree from Kaskaskia, so I was very excited to return to the company in a new area.
I shadowed Mark Nagel for both days of my experience, and I really appreciated his time and the opportunity to learn about their feed mill. He began by giving me a tour of the mill and discussed how the Maschhoff’s pellet nearly 90% of all diets fed to their commercial herds. He explained to me the process of diet formulation and the addition of ingredients to make the desired ration for the various facilities they maintain. My favorite part of the tour was taking the elevator to the top of the mill and seeing the Maschhoff’s “penthouse view.”
In addition to the tour of the facitilty, he discussed the importance of safety at the mill. In the past, they had an explosion at the feed mill site which taught them a valuable lesson about grain safety and the importance of maintaining a clean and safe environment. He explained that the mill remains very conscious of safety and has not had any serious accidents in a considerable amount of time.
Another aspect of the mill that I experienced was the control room, where all the “magic” happens. Connie Kujawa allowed me to observe her methods for mixing feeds, running the pellet machine, and loading trucks all with a click of a button. On some occasions she had to unload some ingredients by hand but most of the systems are automated. In addition to controlling the machinery, she is also responsible for collecting samples from all shipments of feed that leave the facility. This sampling allows them to track any feed that leaves the facility if an accident were to occur. Connie also discussed the importance of being cognoscente of medicated feeds that leave the facility, as it is vital that antibiotics are not given to market hogs to prevent antibiotics from making it into our food system.
My experience at The Maschhoff’s feed mill was very valuable, and I enjoyed learning about the technical aspect of the most important expense in swine production, feed.
My name is Carlie Mettler and I am a sophomore at the University of Illinois majoring in animal science with a minor in crop science. I grew up in Highland, Illinois just east of St. Louis. Both sides of my family farm, so I’ve been around agriculture and farming my whole life. I loved going to the elevator with my dad and was always interested in learning more about the grain industry. In the future, I hope to be an animal nutritionist, so although I am a non-typical applicant for the Grain and Feed Association Scholarship, I still think it's beneficial to know the whole process of the grain industry and how it works with the animal nutrition industry.
For my job shadowing, I was paired with the Highland Top Ag elevator. This elevator was just recently bought out by Top Ag and was originally Oberbeck Grain. I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the experience, but during my two days there I learned a lot. I spent some time talking to a former grain merchandiser and owner of Oberbeck grain, Bob Luitjohan. Knowing nothing about how the grain markets work, he answered a lot of my questions. I learned that there is a lot of risk in trading, a perfect timing for everything, and with experience you start to learn the best time to buy, sell, or keep. I also found that there are many aspects and factors to consider when trading: the weather, other countries' crops, inflation, the value of currency, and a good crop vs. bad crop year are all factors to consider when making decisions.
In addition to talking with Bob, I also got the chance to talk to Angie Fears and Todd Luitjohan who work at the elevator as well. I watched and learned a little bit about how to insert tickets into the computer system and I helped sort all the tickets into a filing system. I also learned about how to create checks from tickets and put them in the office safe. Additionally, I learned a little bit about contracts, spotting, and taking phone calls from farmers. I witnessed farmers asking about their contracts, current prices, splitting tickets, and selling grain. With harvest coming to an end, the office wasn’t too busy but I was able to see a few trucks come in. I watched the grain be weighed, tested, and then driven into the elevator where they dump.
One of the coolest things I did during my job shadowing was going up in the grain elevator. Everything was a gravity system and it was interesting to see how they measure the storage bins to see how much room is left. We stopped at every level of the elevator and I even got to go on the roof and could see the St. Louis Arch. On the elevator is the town's huge Christmas tree that lights up the town every year so it was neat to see the tree up close. Going up in the elevator was an amazing opportunity and I will never forget it.
During my time job shadowing I also got to make some trips to other grain facilities. I went to the New Douglas elevator and got to see a bigger operation that has bigger grain bins and more storage. The dump pits were bigger and the scale system was a little more updated than the Highland location. I also got the chance to go to the river, which is where some of Top Ag’s grain goes, to see Bunge’s operation. It was so crazy and neat to see how a barge is loaded with grain. I never knew that basically an arm comes from the bins that is long enough to reach the river and just fills the barges. It takes about two hours to fill a barge, and at that operation they fill about five to nine barges a day. I also went to see Bunge’s competition in Cahokia which was Cargill, Oakley, and Consolidated Grain. It was neat to see other river operations as well.
I am so thankful I got the experience I had with Top Ag, and for Angie, Todd, and Bob. I truly learned a lot and the people were so nice and informative. I enjoyed my experience so much, and I can’t wait to return in the spring and see what else I can learn.
Grain & Feed Association of Illinois
3521 Hollis Dr.